Sumptuous French Luncheon in honor of Mrs. Arabella Huntington (1896 SF, CA)

The Huntington’s Clan all lived in San Francisco in 1890’s.

by Nancy Armitage

It was a lovely Spring day with the fog lifting in San Francisco, California. San Francisco was where most of the Huntington clan lived at the time. A noteworthy luncheon was given in honor of Mrs. Collis P. Huntington (Arabella or “Belle”) by her niece, Carrie Huntington Holladay. It was a special celebration with the Huntington family & friends in 1890’s, possibly in March, April, or May. The location of this formal “entertainment” was at Carrie Holladay’s home at 2215 Buchanan Street in San Francisco.

Flowers are always appropriate for a lovely luncheon, especially roses. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

A possible reason for the fancy sit-down luncheon could have been a number of things. It was possibly a birthday luncheon – (Arabella’s birthday was June 1st) or welcome back to San Francisco from NYC, or a thank-you luncheon. On February 25, 1896, Arabella & her husband, Collis P. Huntington had hosted Carrie & Burke Holladay’s wedding; so maybe a thank-you luncheon for their kindness. The young couple got married in the Huntington’s White Salon (Angels) or Drawing-Room. Also, a wedding breakfast reception afterwares at the Huntington’s stately mansion at No. 2 57th St. & 5th Ave. in New York City. Carrie was Collis Huntington’s niece, his brother, Solon’s daughter. Many correspondence were exchanged by Arabella & Carrie, they always remained close. Many years later, when Arabella became H. E. “Edwards” Huntington’s wife, Carrie became Arabella’s sister-in-law.

On a Spring day, it is always fun to have a Luncheon party out in the garden by the gazebo. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

The piece of paper found in the Mr. H. E. Huntington personal papers about this French luncheon. It sweetly stated: “My 1st Luncheon to Arabella Huntington” on top; then listed the sumptuous edibles served at this elegant affair. it might have been Carrie’s 1st luncheon as a newly married bride (1896). The invited guests (men & women) is debatable, it could have been a ladies luncheon or combination men & women luncheon. My first thought, was a Ladies Luncheon because the paper states Arabella only & not Collis. Although the Victorian tea tradition of “At-Home” reception, did include gentlemen. Also, in the Victorian era, when coffee was served at an event, usually men were invited. Most of the time, when tea only was served is was usually a women’s luncheon event.

A tasty French mesclun salad with lettuces & arugula with goat cheese or brie toasts, sliced pears, toasted nuts, and a lovely French champagne vinaigrette or balsamic vinaigrette. Perfect for a ladies luncheon.

This springtime celebration could have possibly been in the month of May. Annually, Collis & Arabella Huntington made a cross-country train journey to San Francisco from New York City. This trip was usually in April or May. In May every year, Collis hosted an annual 14-16 course dinner to his top executives of the Southern Pacific Co. (Ships, Trains, & Ferries). Collis was the President of Southern Pacific Company at the time; he had 50,000 employees. The Collis Huntington’s owned a grand Nob Hill mansion at 1020 California Street in San Francisco, California.

Pretty fine bone china plates like Haviland or Copeland & Garrett set up for a tea party or luncheon. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

The Escoffier-like formal luncheon menu included many French foods, favorites of Arabella’s. The elegant multi-course luncheon started off with Grapefruit with Oyster Cocktail, then a cup of rich Consommé Soup (probably beef or chicken, served in her newly acquired demitasse or tea cups) & 3rd course an appetizer, Frogs en Poulette. Frogs en Poulette is a delicious Victorian frog leg dish with garlic, mushrooms, leek, & parsley cream. A festive 4th course of Roman Punch being served after, as a break in the middle of the meal.

Roman Punch served elegantly in a silver punch bowl. Roman Punch was popular in the Gilded Age combining champagne, rum, & fruit juices. Usually with a block of ice floating in the punch to keep it nice and cold. Sliced oranges and lemons floating at the top is festive too.

The Victorian beverage served to the guests was Roman Punch, often served at Huntington family celebrations. It was used as a palate cleanser like sorbet in the middle of a meal. Roman Punch is an ancient punch, invented in Rome, & used in Europe & America. It is wonderful mixture of rum, champagne, wines, & citrus juices with sometimes a meringue on top. When it was served hot, it didn’t have the meringue.

Roman Punch Recipe

Roman Punch was often offered in the middle of several Huntington formal dinner menus & Mr. H.E. Huntington’s Hobby Club Dinner Menus. Roman Punch or a Sorbet was often served in the middle of a multi-course meal “to cleanse the palate”.

Juice of 4 Naval Oranges (1 1/2 c.)

2 c. Water (opt.)

1 c. French Champagne (cold) or Rum

juice of 1 lemon

1 t. Sugar

1 1/2 c. Afternoon Darjeeling brewed Tea, cool down

1/4 c. Maraschino cherry juice

Make orange juice add water, lemon, sugar, maraschino cherry juice, & cooled tea. Place in pitcher in the refrigerator. Before guests arrive, add cold fruit juices & champagne/rum together. Mix all ingredients (cold) into a punch bowl & serve with a ring of ice. Serve with punch cups. Adapted recipe: Nancy Armitage

Along with the Roman Punch, Carrie Holliday provided 3 bottles of Sauterne wine (probably to go with the Frog en Poulette), 3 bottles of Champagne (served with the entree, the chicken) & 3 bottles mineral water, & coffee.

Cabinet plate ware in the Gilded age was very popular. This was a Presidential service used in the White House in Washington DC, used by President James K. Polk. A lovely botanical service with gold filigree on the rim.

Carrie’s 5th course was French Cream Fugue with Artichoke Fonds with Sauce Bernaise. A French cream found in a food dictionary had brandy in tea, so the cream was infused in brandy. The St. Francis Cookbook (1919) of San Francisco states that Fonds of Artichokes with a mayonnaise sauce was a San Francisco luncheon specialty. The French word “Fugue” means “To Compose” with the beautiful leaves of the California artichoke. It can be a very showy course with the artichoke leaves laid out like a large sunflower. Victorians often took a lot of time making food look spectacular & creating a theme for their guests. Another definition of “Fonds of Artichokes” uses boiled artichoke leaves & combines petit vegetables like petit peas, beans, & baby carrots. Places the artichoke fonds, placed on a lettuce leaf, decorated with hard-boiled eggs & mayonnaise.

Recipe: Cold Artichoke with Herbed Mayonnaise with a squeeze of lemon. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

For the entrée (the 6th luncheon course), the hostess chose a Small Spring Chicken ; Chicken Fricassee was quite popular in the Victorian Era. The 7th course, a Waldorf Salad, a nod to the famous New York salad. In the late 1890’s, a Waldorf salad was simply chopped celery, apples, & walnuts with mayonnaise maybe laid on top of romaine leaves or French arugula (roquette).

All kinds of delicious French petit four cakes & glaces.

For the luncheon Spring desserts (the 8th course), Carrie had all sorts of delightful French Glaces. She chose a decedent array of Biscuit Glace, Farci Calles, Almond Glace, Strawberry Glace, & Raspberry Glace. The definition of a “Bisquit Glace” in 1895 was a combination of egg yolks, sugar (both granulated & confectioners sugar) with frozen whipped cream. Biscuit Glace was colored confection with half the whipped cream with red food coloring & then place it in paper cases (cupcake wrappers). The other glaces would have had the nuts, lemon zest, or beautiful red berries added to the whipped cream. Carrie also treated her guests to French Crullers (French fried donut dusted with powdered sugar or drizzled with royal icing). Like the wonderful French biegnets one can feast on in New Orleans, LA. To finish this delightful & elegant luncheon, she served Almonds & Pecans, probably Jordan Almonds (a favorite of Arabella), or salted or cinnamon sugared nuts.

A formal Gilded Age coffee & tea service set on a grand silver tray. Arabella & Collis Huntington gave Carrie & Burke Holladay a Gorham Silver tea set like this for their wedding present . The elegant pattern was “Imperial Chrysanthemum”.

Coffee was served in her elegant new wedding silver tea & coffee service. It was made by Gorham Silver Co and the pattern was “Imperial Chrysanthemum”. This large & elaborate silver service was a wedding gift to Carrie & Burke Holliday from Uncle Collis & Aunt Arabella Huntington. The Hollidays maid or butler would have helped the guests by serving coffee with cream & sugar added if requested.

Carrie Huntington Holladay was a singer, musician, & a lovely piano player. the Huntington Family often requested she sing or play the piano for their entertainment. As a young girl, she often was in the musical concerts (on the Cunard cruise ships the Huntington family traveled on). She had lots of friends & everyone in the Huntington family just loved being around her. Carrie was a great entertainer & hostess but not a cook. She probably hired a caterer or a French chef/cook to make this luncheon meal. In the Holliday Family Diary & E. Burke Holliday diary- “Burkes journals”, he talks about having a cook but they couldn’t seem to keep a cook. Maybe their expectations were too high, I don’t know.

Historical Note:

It was written in the Queen’s Cookbook (1895) that formal luncheon was usually 3-4 courses. The 4 courses found in the cookbook were: 1st) Soup a bouillion 2nd) Entree like lamb chops with Saratoga chips & bread rolls 3rd) Salad: like a chicken mayonnaise salad served with a relish dish of wafers, almonds, & olives 4th) Cakes & Ice Cream with Chocolate & whipped Cream & fruit. Stating also that “Flowers were always appropriate”. So compare to this cookbook, Carrie luncheon was twice as large as the usual luncheon.

Carrie’s luncheon was quite elaborate with 8 courses. We know that it was a Springtime luncheon, because Carrie states it on her menu with the foods she picked. A spring Chicken, California Artichoke (their peak season is from March to May). Spring berries: Raspberries & Strawberries are delicious in Springtime.

Champagne by the glass is always a fun way to celebrate an occasion.


San Francisco Call Newspaper Vol. 79 Number 88 Feb. 26 1896 (Miss Carrie Huntington Hollidays wedding)

HEH Collection MS Box 199 (H. E. Huntington private papers) Carrie Hollidays 1st Luncheon menu honoring Arabella D. Huntington

HEH Coll HEH MS 10968 (Burkes Journal) -HEH’s Brother in Law


Boyd, Mrs. Wm. Hart The Queen Cookbook, Cincinnati: H. Ferguson Co. 1895 (3-4 courses luncheons)

Hirtler, Victor, The Hotel St. Francis Cookbook, The Hotel Monthly Press, 1919

McCormick, Macinnes, Efron. A Dictionary of Words about Alcohol, Universite of Michigan, Publication Division Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies, 1981

Escoffier, Escoffier Cookbook 1890 (Fugue de artichauts: a composed salad of carrots, beans and peas on a beautiful leaves of artichokes)

Gorham Sterling Silver tea and Coffee Service, “Imperial Chrysanthemum” Donated to the Huntington Library from HEH’s sister, Carrie Huntington Holladay’s estate. Given to Carrie and Burke for a wedding present from Arabella & Collis Huntington 1896. On display in the Steele Gallery, Huntington Library, San Marino, CA

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